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Readings & Workshops Blog

Poet, educator, and inspirational speaker Carole "Imani" Parker blogs about her former students at the P&W–supported Jobs for Youth Apprenticeship Program (JFYAP) at Medgar Evers College, a job readiness program she once directed.

In addition to classroom instructions, JFYAP students were engaged in exciting educational and recreational activities, such as college tours, United Nations forums, job shadowing, peer counseling, community service activities, entrepreneurial training, job readiness and life skills training, and, most importantly, P&W-supported poetry readings and workshops and participating in P&W's annual intergenerational poetry showcase. 

Because of their participation in JFYAP, many of the students have graduated from post secondary colleges or apprenticeship training programs and have entered successful careers as health care providers, teachers, social workers, accountants, production assistants, entertainers, etc.

JFYAP students have benefited and grown as a result of all of the training they've received. They have received a well-rounded education, complete with P&W-supported poetry workshops. 

Photo: Carole Imani Parker.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Poet and English professor Caroline Maun blogs about P&W–sponsored The @ Noon Reading Series, held at Wayne State University in Detriot. Maun's poetry collections include The Sleeping, and Cures and Poisons. She is also the editor of The Collected Poetry of Evelyn Scott

The @ Noon Reading Series began at Wayne State University during the 2010 winter semester. That first year, we paired creative writing faculty from the English department with student writers. In subsequent years we have showcased some of the finest poets and writers from the southeast Michigan region and beyond, and have continued to pair our guests with up-and-coming student writers. Since 2010, the series has enjoyed growing popularity and success with six public readings and one public workshop.

We managed to fund the first two years of the series with modest support from our department budget. This year, thanks to funding from Poets & Writers, we were able to extend the series considerably. This was helpful during a time when university budgets are shrinking, but also when creative activity in our city is burgeoning. It was great to provide this venue to wonderful artists and offer excellent programming to our students and the community. 

We have a collaborative approach to programming. Creative writing faculty select a date and a guest to invite to read and then find the student who is available and will compliment the featured guest’s work. Our students read for fifteen minutes. Our featured readers read for twenty to twenty-five minutes, and there is time for discussion afterwards. We offer coffee and snacks in our lounge where audience members continue the conversation. This semester, we regularly attracted audiences of twenty-five to fifty students, community members, faculty, and staff of the university.

Featured poets this year have included Matthew Olzmann, Vievee Francis, Keith Taylor, and Rob Halpern, and writers Lynn Crawford and Mitch and Megan Ryder. Student poets and writers have included Vincent Perrone, Aricka Foreman, John Kalogerakos, Jill Darling, Mathew Polzin, and Ricardo Castano IV.  One of the many highlights was Vievee Francis reading from Horse in the Dark, a poetry collection forthcoming from Northwestern University Press characterized by personal lyrics, which is a departure from the persona poetry in her first poetry book, Blue-Tail Fly. She was joined by student poet Aricka Foreman. Another highlight was Lynn Crawford reading from Simply Separate People, Two, accompanied by student writer Matthew Polzin. During the question-and-answer session, poets as well as fiction writers engaged with Lynn’s work enthusiastically for its condensed, lyrical style.

Jennifer LoPiccolo, one of my very talented students, commented on the series: “I make it a point to attend The @ Noon Series because I gain exposure to various forms of poetry and fiction that help me to hone my own work. Wayne’s creative writing students share a stage with our guest readers, which allows the audience to draw connections between their peers and more accomplished writers. While taking notes on both, I see the gap between my friends and the authors on my shelf narrow. It’s a rewarding hour."

We are looking forward to planning next year’s series and continuing this rich supplement to classroom experiences for our students.

Photo: Lynn Crawford and Matthew Polzin.  Credit: Caroline Maun.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

For the month of June, poet, educator, and inspirational speaker Carole "Imani" Parker blogs about her work with the P&W–supported Jobs for Youth Apprenticeship Program (JFYAP) at Medgar Evers College, a job readiness program she once directed.

As former director of JFYAP, I write this entry with a sense of joy, sadness, and pride. When I first started working at JFYAP in 1995, it had been closed for two years. I am privileged to have been able to watch the program grow for more than fifteen years. Unfortunately, due to the current recession, the program, which was funded by the New State Department of Labor, lost its funding and was forced to close in December 2011. Because of its collaboration with the GED Plus-Division of the New York City Department of Education and Medgar Evers College, however, the remaining students in the program have been allowed to complete their education at the college.

JFYAP was established as an academic enrichment/career development program. The program was designed to provide services to “at risk” youth as well as young people who had either dropped out of traditional high schools or migrated to the United States from other countries. For more than seventeen years, JFYAP assisted hundreds of students to reach their academic and vocational goals.

Some students came with a myriad of issues, including gang involvement, illiteracy, and substance abuse. With a caring staff and creative P&W–supported writers, such as George Edward Tait, Abu Muhammad, and Radhiyah Ayobami, many of the students were able to transform their negative conditions and behavior through the art of creative writing.

Photo: Carole Imani Parker.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

In May, P&W-supported poet Andrei Guruianu, author of Postmodern Dogma and several other books, taught a workshop sponsored by the Center for Gender, Art and Culture in Binghamton, New York. Participants Lois Westgate and Kit Hartman blog about the experience.

AndrAndrei Guruianuei Guruianu led a group of writers in the process of creating poetry at the Cooperative Gallery 213. The Gallery provides a space for local artists and photographers, and has welcomed writers’ workshops. Andrei has long been an inspiration to fledgling writers in Upstate New York: He taught at Binghamton University and Ithaca College, published a journal of work by writers from his community workshops, founded The Broome Review, and served as Poet Laureate of Broome County.
 
Our Saturday workshop was a small group, which Andrei prefers “…as it promotes intimate conversations and sharing, and allows people to feel more comfortable once the group settles into the work of writing.” He recommended we try to remove our biases and allow the subject of our poetry to live on its own.

Andrei showed scenes from the movie Iris, in which Judi Dench as British writer Iris Murdock says: “Every human soul has seen, perhaps before their birth, pure forms such as justice, temperance, beauty, and all the great moral qualities which we hold in honour.” We contemplated the archetypes of the unconscious, which are sometimes impossible to convey in words.

workshop participantsThe movie includes a montage of Iris and her husband swimming, Iris nude in youth, and in a bathing suit in old age. Andrei asked us to identify concepts this scene evoked and capture these through images in our poetry. For our second poem, he asked us to respond to a scene in which Iris, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, places beach stones on rows of blank paper from her journal, then removes the stones. The papers are swept away. 

We read our poems aloud and Andrei pointed out the strongest parts of each. His critiques were honest, but not brutal. An example of one person’s best line inspired by the stones-on-paper scene: “…her fingers remembered the need to create.”

Andrei’s philosophy is this: “I continue to enjoy leading community writing workshops because it helps me stay true to my initial impulse, [which is] to take creative writing out of the classroom. The creative space that opens up when there is no pressure to create or publish is genuine, is as close to the ‘spirit’ of the art as you can get.”

We in Binghamton felt fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him.

Top photo: Andrei Guruianu. Credit: Kit Hartman. Lower photo: Workshop participants. Credit: Andrei Guruianu.
Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Social justice activist and Cave Canem fellow Ama Codjoe blogs about writing in form and five days in the woods.

In September of 2011, equipped with lessons from the P&W–supported Cave Canem workshop with Marilyn Nelson and with Annie Finch's A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women, I drove to a friend's country home in Pine Plains, New York. I spent five days alone in the woods (with deer, wild turkey, trees, and books as worthy companions).

Most writers acknowledge the benefit of retreat. Getting away enabled me to turn off technology and turn any distractions into sustenance: cooking, watching the lake shift and move, or watching a deer watching me. In this way some retreats are a coming towards: towards nature, towards community, towards solitude, towards discipline. I am grateful to have benefited from different kinds of retreats where I have learned about the craft of poetry, the power of community, and the sacredness of solitude.

Writing is a creative act that one performs alone, but when I began writing sonnets after Julia Alvarez, I was communing with the poems I had read and the poets I had heard. I am not sure that I would have decided to write thirty-three sonnets without my time in the woods. I know that I wouldn't have begun writing a series of sonnets without the P&W–supported regional Cave Canem workshop with Marilyn Nelson in 2009.  We explored the virtues of formal poetry, and it was then that I first dipped my toes into the waters of the sonnet.           

Since September, I have crafted sonnets about mermaids, desire, fishermen, and seascapes. They are the most personal poems I have written. They are poems that benefit from the syllabic, rhythmic, and aural constraints of formal verse. The word sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto meaning "little song." Through composing and revising sonnets, I am singing to myself, to Alvarez, to Nelson, and to the deer and turkey in Pine Plains too.

Photo: Ama Codjoe. Credit: Matthew Goldberg.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

The fifth annual Our Life Stories Writers’ Conference took place April 28 at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. This one-day conference, co-sponsored by the Ethel Hart Senior Center and Cosumnes River College, and supported by P&W, is designed for seniors and others interested in documenting their life stories. Project directors Alicia Black and Bubbles Miguel describe the event.

The celebration began the evening of Friday, April 27, when more than eighty people gathered at the Hart Senior Center in downtown Sacramento for a pre-conference reception. Attendees sipped port wine and dunked fresh fruit into a multi-tiered chocolate fountain while mingling with conference faculty and fellow participants. Faculty greeted participants, signed books, and read their own work for the crowd.

Early the following morning, more than 150 attendees and volunteers streamed past manicured lawns and flowering trees on the Cosumnes River College (CRC) campus to enter the conference room. Allegra Silberstein, poet laureate of the nearby town of Davis, kicked the day off with a reading. Jennifer Bayse Sander, a New York Times bestselling author, publisher, and former Random House senior editor, delivered the keynote address.

Participants dispersed to a nearby building to attend their selected morning workshops. The seven workshop offerings gave the writers an opportunity to learn about autobiographical narrative, poetry, memoir, and publishing. The workshops were led by a culturally diverse group of nationally and locally recognized writers. Offerings included “Painting with words: creating atmosphere in settings” by Kerstin Feindert, “Your life as a list of ten” by Susan Kelly-DeWitt, and “Who said that? Voice and point of view in fiction” by Kakwasi Somadhi.

After a catered Italian lunch accompanied by an enticing slice of strawberry cheesecake, Ginny McReynolds, CRC Dean of Humanities and Social Science, gave a keynote talk about the importance of writing on a regular basis. Once the afternoon workshops concluded, participants returned to submit their evaluations for prizes donated by local restaurants, private individuals, and a local winery. As attendees departed, many reported that they had met new people and enjoyed the chance to network and eat great food. Many promised to return next year, as their life stories continue to unfold.

Above: Emmanuel Sigauke signs a book. Left: Susan Kelly-DeWitt (standing) leads a workshop. Credit: Martin McIllroy.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Social justice activist and Cave Canem fellow Ama Codjoe blogs about participating in a P&W–supported Cave Canem regional workshop with formalist poet Marilyn Nelson in 2009. 

In fall 2009, Poets & Writers supported a Cave Canem regional workshop with Marilyn Nelson. Nelson is a goddess of formal poetics. Before taking a workshop with Marilyn I had little experience with sonnets, sestinas, or ballads. Through a series of lessons on meter, rhyme, and phrasing, I learned the arithmetic of formalism.

Nelson asked us to pay particular attention to the construction of the poetic line. Through a sequence of assignments we experienced how careful and intentional construction could lead to a meaningful, surprising, and exciting composition. Formal verse provides the writer with added parameters. Nelson’s poetry exhibits how such constraints used skillfully can produce poems that are wild, challenging, liberating, and free. Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden offer examples of how constraint or restraint can be used to describe terror, horror, beauty, and oppression. In these ways formal poetry holds paradox with nimble hands.

To conclude our time together Marilyn asked us to write one sonnet. About two years later, a childhood friend reminded me of a series of poems that we read when we were teenagers. “Don’t you remember?” she asked. “Who touches this poem touches a woman.” I did remember. The last line of Julia Alvarez’s last sonnet was a line that moved my teenage-becoming-a-woman self. Rereading those sonnets from Alvarez’s first book, Homecoming, was a kind of homecoming. I admired the way her sonnets sounded both casual and intimate. The themes she was obsessed with: relationships, God, marriage, and womanhood resonated with the preoccupations of my thirty-something mind and heart.

By experiencing the resonance of a poetic line as a teenager and returning to that line as an adult, I began a process of constructing, revising, and building a sonnet cycle of my own. I am grateful for Nelson’s instruction and for an introduction to formalism that continues to shape and propel my work.

Photo: Ama Codjoe. Credit: Amanda Morgan.


Support for
Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

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